Friday, May 18, 2018

A Few More Thoughts On Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion


Not quite yet at 1/4 mark of Dawkins’s The God Delusion, some of which is elementary, some of which is shrill and some of which is striking.

Two thoughts (among others): 

1. Dawkins makes brief mention of Pascal’s wager.

If you believe in God and it’s true, you’re golden.

If you believe and it’s not true, what have you given up? 

Not a lot, in fact you’ll have lived a righteously moral life.

If you don’t believe in God and he exists, well good luck with that as you burn in the fires of Hell. 

Dawkins criticizes this wager on the ground that we can’t force or will ourselves to believe. We either do “organically”—my word—or we feign belief on a bet. 

Dawkins is too clever by half here. 

In his online show Coffee With Comedians In Cars, Seinfeld tells one guy, maybe Jim Carrey, I can’t remember whom, paraphrase, “Later for process. It’s not worth talking about. All that matters is the comedy at the end of it.” 

It seems to me that that applies to the origins or springs of faith, that in fact in one mode of those springs we can will ourselves to believe. What will then count, from the angle of faith, is the depth and sincerity of it once attained. After all, isn’t Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith” a kind of willing himself into it? 

2. Dawkins rehearses an argument that always presented a problem to my atheism—the argument from irreducible complexity: take the eye for example; it’s mind bogglingly improbable that chance mutations could have created such an incredibly complex sense organ as the eye with its virtually infinite components and minute, delicate and multifarious processes. So irreducible complexity is the highest example of the argument against evolution from improbability.

Dawkins has two powerful answers that I’m persuaded do away with this argument. 

One, the argument is correct insofar far as it denies the operation of chance in the “creation”—“creation” used advisedly—of the eye. Natural selection is not chance process. Rather, and to oversimplify, under natural selection organisms best suited to their environments survive and pass on their genetic traits in increasing number to successive generations.

Two, irreducible complexity takes an airplane right to the peak of “Mount Improbability” and declares the eye at the peak irreducibly complex beyond chance (and beyond evolution.) But, as opposed to jetting immediately to the peak, we must make our slow way up the mountain, going round and round it in a slowly ascending *cumulative* mountain hike of small changes over hundreds and hundreds of millions of years. Seen as such a glacially slow, incremental process, evolution is quite up to the challenge of accounting for irreducible complexity and for kicking “irreducible” out of the phrase. 

P.S. a note to a friend here from my being very early into Dawkins:

....My atheism at times needs a kick in the ass to bolster it. I sometimes tend to slide away from it. So Dawkins is good for that. Mind you I do find him shrill on some points like why is slagging religion so verboten when (say) we can openly and freely and with impunity attack differing policy or political views or views on the origins of the universe. The answer is so obvious. But I’m only at the beginning and I’m finding plenty that’s new (at least to me) like the nature of Einstein’s or Hawking’s religiosity and what the American founders believed and didn’t believe and too some of the nuances among deism, theism, atheism and agnosticism. So except for a few shrill notes, I’m enjoying the book a lot and admire Dawkins’s unabashed taking religion on....

P.PS.S. Dawkins explains that for Einstein religion, a word misused by Einstein Dawkins argues, meant, “I believe in Spinoza's God, who reveals himself in the harmony of all that exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.”

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